14 Jan, 2019
Players
I just want to try and do exactly what Phil Taylor’s done - I want to make history Leighton Bennett

Teenager Leighton Bennett hs already made history by becoming the youngest ever world darts champion, after a stunning victory in the BDO World Youth Championship, just a few days after turning 13 years old.

The youngster from Lincoln won 3-0 against fellow Target youth player Nathan Girvan, producing an average that eclipsed even some of the winning averages in the full men's draw at Lakeside.

"Boom Boom", so-named because of his enthusiastic celebrations, had already made national news in 2018 by winning a men's event as a 12 year old, beating the likes of Target's Ricky Evans on the way to the Cambridgeshire Open title in August.

But his journey in the sport began back home in Lincolnshire, where his grandfather Derek encouraged him to first pick up a dart at age six.

Within two years, his dad had set-up a board for him at home, and he was competing in tournaments for youths upto 18 years old - more than twice his age.

"I've never really been keen on any other sports. I used to be into watching football, but I never really played anything else.

My first ever tournament I entered, I played an 18 year old - he hit something like a 12, an 11 and a 15-darter, so I didn't really get many chances.

I said to dad that I didn't want to enter a men's competition until I'd won one of the youth ones."

However, by just nine years old Leighton had won a youth tournament, and his appetite for the game is insatiable.

"I probably practice 4-5 hours a day, but if I'm playing well it might be more like six or seven.

I practice straight away when I get back from school. I might have a couple of minutes with my mum and dad, but then I'm straight back on the board.

Dad says if there's ever a day that I don't want to play, then it's ok - but there aren't many days that I don't want to."

His parents take him up and down the country to compete in tournaments, which included a trip to nearby Boston for his birthday present on New Year's Eve - less than a fortnight before his Lakeside debut.

A victory there on earned him a birthday bonus of £110, and he followed that up by winning another senior tournament days later - a York Darts Promotions event where he came through a field of 106 players, which included PDC Challenge Tour winners Lee Budgen and Richie Corner.

Target's 16-time World Champion Phil "The Power" Taylor was Leighton's first inspiration in the game, and he started out using his signature Target Power 9Five darts.

However, he ended up switching to using his father's arrows after trying them in practice and hitting a dozen 180s in a matter of minutes (Leighton says his dad "doesn't regret it now").

His rapid rise over the last 12 months has been rewarded by being signed by Target, who have now made him his own darts which he used to win the World Youth Final, and welcomed him into the new Elite1 training and mentoring system headed-up by BDO legend Darryl Fitton.

"I was over the moon with that. I couldn't believe it getting sponsored by them because I knew all the best youths in the world were sponsored by them - it's awesome.

Darryl just told me to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm sponsored by Target, won the World final, and the Cambridgeshire Open… so I'm doing something right."

As part of his training, Leighton and the rest of the Elite1 team got to spend a day with "The Power" to try and learn from the sport's most successful player.

"It was definitely Phil Taylor that was my hero when I first started, but now it's Rob Cross because of everything he's doing - and they're both such nice people."

Indeed Target's 2018 PDC World Champion Cross has taken Leighton under his wing, practising with him ahead of his victory at Lakeside and backing the young man to continue to achieve success.

It appears that Leighton's fast, technically-excellent throw is almost entirely self-taught - the product of hours of hammering the board at home in Lincoln.

"It's all through practice - I've just gone on to YouTube and see what Rob Cross and Phil Taylor have to say after their games, and it's all gone from there."

Leighton has now targeted playing the Junior Darts Corporation circuit in 2019, along with his continued participation in County Darts for Yorkshire (at youth level) and Lincolnshire (in the seniors) - with the aim of getting selected for England.

His stunning rise to prominence over the last year, coupled with a genuinely exciting debut at The Lakeside, has naturally led to predictions that Bennett could go on to do great things in the sport.

When asked what he wants to achieve, he does not set a low bar for himself:

"I just want to try and do exactly what Phil's done - I want to make history"

I got told that I was the youngest ever winner [of the World Youth Championship]; it's awesome knowing you've broken a world record."

Leighton may well go on to become a truly special player in elite level darts, but he is only just starting out in his career, and the weight of expectations (not least his own) could be a heavy burden.

However, with the support of his parents and Target's Elite1 system, if he can keep enjoying playing the game and continuing to develop, "Boom Boom" could well become one of the biggest names in the sport in years to come.

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